A group of residents from the Bodega Bay area have formally requested to be detached from the Palm Drive Health Care District. Liz Martin, one of the representatives of the Bodega Bay Against Unfair Taxes group, said more than enough signatures have been collected.
“We have sent a letter to each of the board of directors and executive director requesting Palm Drive Health Care District voluntarily detach this territory,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The petition process began a few months ago responding to the advice of the Sonoma County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), a countywide agency that rules on government service boundaries. The health care district’s governance has been under review by LAFCO since 2016, and in October the commission advised residents who wanted change to take the lead.
The Bodega Bay group took the first step by submitting a detachment request to LAFCO citing, “the cause for this request is due to the ongoing demonstration of poor hospital management resulting in the ongoing fiscal failures.”
Also mentioned in the LAFCO request for detachment submission is the hospital management agreement with American Advanced Management Group (AAMG). The letter states the agreement was hastily made with insufficient time to review the contract and would lead to an addition of significant size to the district’s debt.
“Suffice it to say PDHCD board made yet another disastrous financial decision that continues to fleece its taxpayers,” the request states.
Another area of conflict is whether the AAMG contract meets the criteria of Measure W passed by voters in 2005 to support the hospital and provide emergency services.
The hospital’s emergency room was closed in September.
Dennis Colthurst, PDHCD board president, said he is disappointed with the detachment request that to him “came from left field.”
“I’m against the detachment,” he said. “I definitely have it in my heart for Bodega Bay.”
The district began work on new programs focused on the Bodega Bay area in October, after approving a $50,000 marketing contract to help “educate” residents and develop strategies to target Bodega Bay.
As for compliance with Measure W, Colthurst said the urgent care facility, which has not opened yet due to licensing requirements, does meet the criteria.
Martin said the Bodega Bay group chose to garner signatures from registered voters that live within the boundary of Bodega Bay Fire Protection District.
“We chose registered voters instead of landowners due to the high number of vacation rentals and second homes in the territory,” she said.
Although the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District boundary was used, the entity is not involved with the detachment.
According to LAFCO procedure, 25 percent of the registered voters must sign the petition within a six-month time frame. Martin said as of Dec. 16, the group collected 264 confirmed signatures in a territory with 981 registered voters.
“So we have 27 percent and are still gathering signatures,” she said.
The group requested the detachment submission be put on the PDHCD’s January board meeting agenda.
In 2017 a group of Russian River residents began the process of detaching from the health care district, ultimately leading to a successful detachment in May 2018. The group behind the effort, Taxpayers Against Unfair Taxes (TAUT), worked to detach the Forestville, Guerneville and Monte Rio school districts from the health care district, which levies an annual parcel tax of $155 on property owners within the PDHCD boundaries comprising most of western Sonoma County.
District dissolution is not being considered by LAFCO at this time
LAFCO executive officer Mark Bramfitt said a lengthy process is required in order for the district to be dissolved by voters. As of Dec. 17 no notice of intent had been filed, but Bramfitt said he had been involved in conversations with residents interested in the process.
The sequence of actions required to dissolve the district is similar to the process of detachment. A member or members of the district must first notify LAFCO of their intention to dissolve the district. Then they must gather the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters within the district. There are currently 25,220 registered voters, making the requirement 2,522.
After gathering at least 2,522 signatures and presenting them to the commission, LAFCO will have the option to approve or reject the dissolution. If they approve it, district residents will have the chance to vote on the question in a special election or during a regularly scheduled election. (Because the Russian River area already successfully detached from the district, those residents would not be allowed to participate by signature or vote in the dissolution of the healthcare district.)
The applicants who want to dissolve the district will be responsible for financing the election process.
A simple majority vote is required to solidify the dissolution of the district. Bramfitt said the county assessor’s office would then be charged with the task of winding down the financial affairs of the district, which includes overseeing the district’s $22 million debt obligation.